For the first time since 2016, the state title trophy will not be coming home with the Newman Catholic baseball team.
On Saturday, the three-time defending state champion Knights lost to Don Bosco, 3-2, at Principal Park in the Class 1A state title game. The team was denied its fourth consecutive state title by a heartbreaking series of events in the bottom of the sixth inning, as the Dons clubbed three straight doubles off of relief pitcher Max Burt, to take the late-inning lead.
Knights freshman Doug Taylor got the start in the state title game for the second straight year, and after allowing the Dons to score one run in the third inning, settled down and pitched masterfully.
Taylor also provided the team’s offense by driving in two runs with a fifth-inning single, which ended Don Bosco starter Mack Orkner's day.
Taylor left the mound in the sixth, after throwing 90 pitches. He went 5 ⅔ innings and allowed one run on three hits, while striking out seven. Burt, who came into the game with a perfect 0.00 ERA in 9 ⅓ innings of work this season, came on to pitch in relief.
With two strikes, Dons’ junior Mason Denton clubbed a double to left field. The next batter, junior Cedric Yoder, tied the game with a double to right. Yoder then scored the go-ahead, and eventual winning run, as junior Charlie Hogan drove him in with the Dons’ third straight two-bagger. All of the doubles came with two strikes.
“We bring Max in, and we get the guy to two strikes, you’re feeling pretty confident that we’re going to get the job done,” Newman Catholic head coach Alex Bohl said. “All of a sudden, they hit three straight doubles, and they take the lead. It’s something you probably weren’t expecting with Max on the mound, and them at the bottom of the order. Credit to those guys, they battled with two strikes.”
For Taylor, the feeling after Saturday’s game was very different than what he and his teammates have grown used to in years past, but he seemed confident that the Knights could use the loss as motivation going into next season.
“We definitely could’ve played better, but we fought and didn’t put our heads down,” Taylor said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted to, but we’ll learn from it and get better.”
The Knights will lose three seniors to graduation – John Fitzsimmons, Jacob Nelson, and Sam Kratz – but will return the majority of their starting lineup in 2021.
After losing seven starters from the 2019 squad, Bohl and his players know that making it back to the state title game was a big accomplishment.
“A lot of people underestimated us,” Fitzsimmons said. “We were really young with only three seniors in the starting lineup, and we really put a lot of heart into everything we did, and made it a lot farther than anybody thought we could make it.”
After the game, the Knights consoled each other after watching what would’ve been the program’s ninth championship slip through their fingers.
Runner-up is not a feeling Newman Catholic is used to.
“The toughest thing is going to be saying goodbye to (the seniors),” Bohl said. “We’ve got a strong nucleus coming back. We’ll get ready and prepare like we do every year. We’ll learn from what happened this year, and use that to our advantage. Hopefully, we get another opportunity to come back.”
Coming into the year, the Knights, along with the rest of Iowa, were happy that they even got to play a season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the pain of losing a state title, the 2020 season was still well worth it to the Knights’ head coach.
“You get the chance to play baseball during a difficult time for our country, and across the world,” Bohl said. “For our team to make it to championship Saturday, and have a one-run lead in the sixth and have a chance in the seventh, you couldn’t have asked for a better ending.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t come out on top.”
With the win, Don Bosco claimed its second state title in program history, and first since 1978.
Newman Catholic finished its season with a 19-6 overall record.
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Shane Lantz covers sports for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at Shane.Lantz@GlobeGazette.com, or by phone at 641-421-0526. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneMLantz.
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